OKLAHOMA CITY - When Clark Curry, 65, started feeling sick to his stomach during a road trip from Wisconsin to Edmond, Okla., West Nile didn’t even cross his mind.
“I started getting the symptoms on the way home and it wasn’t pretty,” said Curry, who said his initial symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea, fever and muscle aches. “We made it back home to Edmond and I still wasn’t feeling better, so we came to the ER and for the first time in my life, I was admitted to the hospital.”
Curry, who describes himself as a fit person who previously walked a mile and a half multiple times per week, found himself losing mobility in his right arm and leg. Eventually, he would become unable to even sit up in bed. After nearly a week of tests and observation, Mercy physicians arrived at the problem – West Nile virus.
“We’re seeing an outbreak this summer,” said Dr. John Harkess, a Mercy physician in Oklahoma City who specializes in infectious disease. “It’s important people know how serious this disease can be. Right now there are four people in our intensive care unit, fighting for their lives because of West Nile.”
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), the four states Mercy serves – Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma – are seeing their share of the virus. As of Aug. 7, 2012, Arkansas has six confirmed cases, Kansas has eight, Missouri has one and Oklahoma has 22. (Editor's note: As of Aug. 14, 2012, Arkansas has six cases, Kansas has eight, Missouri has two and Oklahoma has 49, according to the CDC.)
There are 390 confirmed cases in the U.S., in 26 states. Texas has by far the highest number of cases at 205, according to Aug. 7, 2012, data on the CDC website. (Editor's note: As of Aug. 14, 2012, there are 693 confirmed cases in the U.S. Texas remains No. 1 on the list with 336 confirmed cases. The CDC updates its website every Tuesday. Check here for updates.)
Harkess says the disease affects everyone a little bit differently, but commonly symptoms start with a fever, muscle aches, headaches and a skin rash. Some people never see symptoms worse than that. For others, like Curry, it’s life-changing.
“All it took was one bite,” said Curry.
The virus attacked Curry’s muscles and nerves, making him unable to move his left leg and right arm. After three weeks of treatment and aggressive physical therapy, Curry is making progress. He is still unable to walk without help, but he can tap his left foot and he can bring his right arm up nearly to his shoulder.
“I’ve come a long way,” said Curry. “But we’ve still got a way to go. I wouldn’t be able to do this without my family. My wife, my daughter, my son, my daughter-in-law, my son-in-law and my six grandchildren have been wonderful support.”
Because West Nile is a virus, there is no cure. The virus simply has to run its course – and the body has to be in good enough shape to beat it.
The CDC says West Nile virus experts believe the virus is, “a seasonal epidemic in North America that flares up in the summer and continues into the fall.” That means Americans, especially in the southern states, have a few more months to take care.
Harkess urges people to take all the precautions they can this summer, including
The CDC website warns people to wear gloves and disinfect themselves if they come in contact with dead birds. Birds are often infected with the virus.
For more information on West Nile, visit the CDC’s West Nile Virus Homepage.
Mercy is the sixth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 31 hospitals, more than 300 outpatient facilities, 38,000 co-workers and 1,700 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. For more about Mercy, visit www.mercy.net.